In the Eastern Conference, the best center in the league is (unsuccessfully) trying to avoid looking like the bad guy. In the Western Conference, arguably the second best center in the league is doing one hell of a job reaching that reputation himself.
There is a laundry list of reasons why the Lakers lost tonight – it was their fifth game in seven days and Houston hasn’t played since Monday so the Lakers’ lack of energy was a factor; the lack of energy affected both their sloppy offense and barely-noticeable defense; Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ramon Sessions and Metta World Peace are all nursing somewhat mild injuries to various body parts. Bottom line: other than the injuries, all the other sources for this loss are fixable, but the ejected center who was producing before he got his second technical foul of the game? Who but Andrew Bynum himself could fix that?
Before he was ejected, Bynum had chipped in 19 points on 6-11 from the field and a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. He also had seven rebounds and two blocks. Having a great game himself tonight was Metta World Peace. With a slow start to Gasol’s night, not to mention Sessions, World Peace was a strong gust of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant game for the home team.
The Lakers did end the first half on a 10-2 run, however, and it appeared they finally got that surge of energy they needed to close out this game, but they got as far as a 63-52 lead to begin the second half, but were then outscored in the third quarter 34-22 with the help of Houston’s 5-6 from downtown. By the time the fourth quarter came around, the Lakers’ 11-point lead had turned into a four-point deficit.
After Bynum was ejected from the game, the Laker offense went south (as did their defense), scoring 26 points on an awful 8-26 from the field – 31%, and allowed Houston to shoot 50%. They lost this game after giving up that large lead…again.
Metta World Peace – Probably the most disappointing part of tonight’s loss was the production in vain of World Peace. While some of Metta’s teammates appeared sluggish to begin the game, MWP was ready to play. He was getting to the hoop for easy baskets, even taking the ball away from Samuel Dalembert and then dropping it in the hoop seconds after. After just the first half, he had scored 17 points, with only Kobe Bryant ahead of him with 18 of his own. That bull in a China shop analogy? That was Metta, ramming himself into the paint and having a field day. He finished with 23 points on 8-13, a trio of rebounds, four assists and two steals. He was the real difference tonight, and if it weren’t for him, the score may have been a lot more lopsided.
Josh McRoberts – His stat line reads six points on 3-7, six rebounds, a steal and block, but for being the team’s real source of energy tonight, it seemed like he did so much more. Whether it was dunking Steve Blake’s alley oop pass, or Matt Barnes’ lob, or stealing the ball and then dribbling the distance to get another hoop, he was the Lakers’ highlight reel tonight. McRoberts is all about the effort and that is why he’s such an asset to this team.
Matt Barnes – Yes, he was only 1-9 for the night, but Barnes, on a nightly basis, provides so much more than just scoring for this team. Like McRoberts, he’s the Lakers’ energy source, and on a night when his team needed someone to play gritty, he was more than willing to get to work. He hit just a singular three-pointer, but he also led the game with 13 rebounds, he handed out four assists and had a steal.
Starters – That every starter scored in double figures was a great help. Pau Gasol didn’t get going util the second quarter, but he did still finish with a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds. MWP, of course, did his thing, Andrew Bynum had 19 points before he got ejected, Kobe Bryant led the game with 28 points on 8-20 and was a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line. Ramon Sessions, wearing a shoulder brace, managed to score 10 points but on only 3-10 from the field. He handed out seven assists, though.
Energy – It was a slow-cooker of a game for the home team, that’s for sure. As much as they won’t admit it, playing five games in seven days isn’t easy, and though they won the previous four games, the fatigue showed. The defense was slow in transition, as was the defensive rotations. Other than Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts, the rebounding could have used some more effort. They outrebounded Houston 48-35, but they gave up nine offensive rebounds.
Turnovers – Sluggish, sloppy, play. After just the first quarter, the Lakers had already racked up seven turnovers. Like I said in the previous point, they looked a bit lethargic to start the game, and that’s just a bad sign.
Andrew Bynum – If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and Bynum, you’re the latter. It’s a mystery where all of Andrew Bynum’s defiance is coming from. Could it really have been just because of that benching from two weeks ago? That enthusiastic kid who served his 4-game suspension to start of the season and then came out swingin’? He’s been replaced by a sourfaced player who scowls and preens after scoring. The player who had a 20-20 game (against Houston, incidentally) and said in a post-game interview that his goal was to get more? He’s gone too, replaced by a center who went six games in a row with single-digit boards. That defensive stopper in the lane who took as much pride in blocking as he did dunking? He’s been replaced by someone who’s determined to shoot threes no matter how detrimental that is to his team’s game plan. And that kid who jumped up from the bench and then bear-hugged teammates after a great play? He’s now someone who doesn’t run out onto the court with the rest of his team, nor participate in pre-game drills. For the second time in the season, Bynum was ejected from the game for mouthing off, first to Samuel Dalembert who fouled him on his way up for a shot and then sharing a few choice words with the Rockets’ bench on his way back to defense after scoring.
The Houston Rockets played without scoring machine Kevin Martin and pesky point guard Kyle Lowry, but for the second time in three meetings, they played the Lakers the only way they know how – with a whole lotta hustle and a whole lotta fight. Just like the teams’ last contest in Houston, the Lakers built a double-digit lead and then allowed the Rockets to take it from them. In March it was a 17-point deficit that the Rockets had to overcome. Tonight it was a more manageable 11. In both losses, however, Andrew Bynum was ejected during a critical time in the game when his team could have used his size to score some easy buckets, and they definitely could have used his long arms to block some shots or take on some rebounds. But just like that night in Texas, Bynum let his mouth do the talking, and then he left his team to do the losing.